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Spiritual Maturity

True Wisdom is found in Christ

“….that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2: 2

There is a difference between someone who is intelligent and someone who is wise, and wisdom and intelligence don’t necessarily go hand in hand.  A person is considered intelligent when they have accumulated knowledge about various subjects or topics and are able to present and communicate this knowledge and information well.  Wisdom requires having knowledge, but it also requires being able to understand and discern circumstances and situations, making proper decisions, and taking appropriate actions.

People can accumulate knowledge by reading, watching and listening.  An increase in knowledge comes from information that is aggregated and associated appropriately.  Knowledge can be linked and networked, and then built upon.  For example, we learn the decimal number system, and then we learn simple arithmetic and mathematics, then building on that we learn algebra.  Once we master these fields of knowledge we can then move on to learn a more in-depth field such as calculus.  We see then that knowledge is accumulative and has dependencies.

Most of us are somewhat limited by our ability to remember large amounts of information. Some people, though, are blessed with the ability to retain a large amount of knowledge in their memory (e.g. a photographic memory) and therefore are more adept at academic studies.

In some cases, for one’s knowledge to increase on a certain topic it requires one to think in the abstract, beyond the physical, concrete things that we are used to encountering.  We must use our imagination, picturing things that are not physical.  This is a special talent that comes easy for some and difficult for others.

We put this knowledge to use to solve problems and to create new things to help us in various ways, like making life easier for us, or saving us time, or even helping to protect us or heal our bodies.  Engineers, for example, use their combined knowledge of physics, math, materials, etc., to solve problems and help create things.

Wisdom is different than knowledge in that it is not attained by simply taking in information, but one must also have understanding, discernment, and the ability to act appropriately.  To have these qualities requires effort.  Wisdom must be sought after, and often can only be gained through experience. Additionally, we must be humble and open to learning and gaining understanding from those who have gone before us.

Here is the definition of wisdom from dictionary.com: “Wisdom – the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.”  Sagacity is defined as “foresight, discernment, or keen perception; ability to make good judgments.”  (Interestingly, the root of the word sagacity is “sag” which means to seek or track down.)

Wisdom usually involves making decisions in a way that the outcome produces the best possible result and is aligned with what is proper and fair for all involved.  Notice from the definition above that in order to be wise we must first understand what is true and what is right, and then we must determine what is just and fair in our situations, making the correct decisions.

Wisdom requires action.  A person can either act wisely or act foolishly.  Wise actions are beneficial to us whereas foolish actions are detrimental.  All of our actions have consequences, but if we can act wisely than we can cause these consequences to work for our good.

And now we get to the core of the matter: How does one acquire wisdom?  How do we gain this ability to act wisely rather than foolishly?  How do we even know the difference?

Acquiring knowledge is rather simple and straight forward since we can choose a topic and then gather information about it by buying books, or going to the library, or maybe taking a course at a local school or college.  There is now tons of information available online, even in video form, about almost any topic you can imagine.

Here is some advice and direction on how to obtain wisdom for your life:

Establish the Lordship of Jesus Christ in your Life

We must make God our God and recognize that we are His servants who aim to please Him.  All of our decisions should be influenced by this truth.  We need to live daily in the light of this reality.  We need to know our place, not as an autonomous person doing as we please, but rather as a bond servant of the Lord Jesus, doing only what pleases Him.  Knowing our place in this life and walking in this knowledge is the beginning of wisdom.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10 (see also Psalm 111:10)

Seek God for Wisdom

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1: 3

“For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding;  He stores up sound wisdom for the upright.” Proverbs 2: 6-7

God controls the circumstances and events in our lives and He can order them in such a way that we can observe and experience what is needed to gain wisdom for our lives.  We must be open to His leading and continue to humbly seek after wisdom.  As the Lord leads us into various situations, we must then recognize the wisdom that He is showing us.

Very often the difficulties that we encounter in our lives are God’s way of trying to open our eyes to things we need to learn and understand.  If we fail to learn these things than our difficulties will continue.  God, as a loving father, desires what is best for us and wants us to grow and mature.  He knows that the difficulties, trials, and troubles of our lives are great times for growth and learning in many areas, including increasing our wisdom.

Our experiences should be coupled with our study of His word, giving us examples of other people’s experiences to learn from.  The books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon in the Bible contains the wisdom from King Solomon and there are many examples throughout the Bible where wisdom can be found if we seek after it and apply it to our lives and circumstances.

Wisdom is found in the least likely places

Remember that God’s ways are different than the ways of the world, and His wisdom is different than the wisdom of the world.  As such, the places where God’s wisdom is found, and therefore the circumstances and experiences that we find ourselves in when seeking wisdom, will be different than what we would expect based on our secular influences.  Consider this portion of Scripture from Ecclesiastes:

“Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting.  For that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart.  Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sad countenance the heart is made better.  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth (gaiety with laughter).” Ecclesiastes 7: 2-4

In other words we would be most likely to obtain wisdom at a funeral, and not likely to find it at a birthday or holiday celebration.  Times of laughter can be good and actually healthy for us, but many of us tend to fill our life with laughter and joking, possibly using it as an escape from the painful reality that we face, or maybe as a way of passing time quickly.  We must realize that it is in the times of pain and sorrow that we are most likely open to seeing the truth and opening our hearts to the deeper spiritual truths that surround us.  If all is going well and life is pleasant we simply continue on in our bubble of false reality, blocking out the important truths that we need to face up to, and the important lessons that we need to learn to bring about internal changes.

“For like the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool.” Ecclesiastes 7:6

One important truth that we must face is the fact that we will all die, which is why the funeral gathering can be beneficial to our pursuit of wisdom, as it will help to make this truth of death a reality rather than just a disconnected thought.   Our decisions and judgments will be greatly impacted if we allow the reality of our future death to sink deep into our minds and hearts.  Wisdom would call for us to recognize that none of the worlds good can be taken with us when we depart from this life.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Mark 8: 36

Recognize Christ as the Key to our Future

The most important truths that we need to understand and live in alignment with are the truths regarding the darkened condition of mankind and this world, the solution to this condition that has been offered by God by sending His Son Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  This world has been cursed due to the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve.  Darkness and evil have a controlling position on this planet, but the light has come to us in the form of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We can be delivered from the darkness if we embrace and live in the light.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ “ John 14: 6

Paul said in the letter to the Colossians that there are treasures of wisdom hidden in Christ.  Paul stated this immediately after declaring some amazing facts about what Jesus did and who He was.  It is very important that we establish these truths about Jesus in our lives, and that we seek these hidden treasures of wisdom.

Here’s is Paul’s declaration about the Lord Jesus Colossians:

“He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption , the forgiveness of sins.  He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning , the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Colossians 2: 13 – 20

Summary

Wisdom and Knowledge are different.  Whereas knowledge is a collection of information and facts about a subject, wisdom requires decision making and actions based on truth, righteousness, justice and fairness, resulting in consequential results that should be beneficial to the wise person who exercises this wisdom.  Wisdom will protect us from evil and from being deceived.  Wisdom must be sought after and is often only truly gained by experience, which is why wisdom is usually associated with old age.

True wisdom comes from God.  We must seek Him for it and also look to His word as a source and guide.  The focus of God’s wisdom is in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah and savior of the world.  Our understanding of Him and our ability to walk in the light of this understanding will lead to true wisdom.  The most important wisdom for us to exercise is the wisdom that is not only beneficial in this life but also gains us eternal life.  This important, true wisdom is only found in God’s Messiah, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

”My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path. When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things, from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice in doing evil, and delight in the perversity of the wicked; whose ways are crooked, and who are devious in their paths; to deliver you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words, who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God.  For her house leads down to death, and her paths to the dead; none who go to her return, nor do they regain the paths of life— so you may walk in the way of goodness, and keep to the paths of righteousness. For the upright will dwell in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the earth, and the unfaithful will be uprooted from it.” Proverbs 2

Amen.

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She did what she could…..and so should we.

“She has done a beautiful thing to me…   She has done what she could….” Mark 14: 6, 8

I was reading through the Gospel of Mark recently and came across an interesting account in chapter 14 that I had read many times in the past, but this time it had caught my attention.  I want to look more closely at the details and discuss what they could mean for us today.

Here’s the account:

“And while He (Jesus) was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the jar and poured it over His head.   But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment thus wasted? For the ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii (about a year’s salary for an average laborer), and given to the poor.’  And they reproached her.  But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to Me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have Me.  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.’” Mark 14: 3-9

First some background.  People at this time period did not have the same financial institutions that we have today.  There were not stock markets, large banks with safe deposit boxes and sophisticated financial instruments to place and preserve one’s wealth.  There were not life insurance policies; no IRA’s or 401K’s.  People therefore had to attempt to preserve their wealth by buying expensive items that would last for a long time.  I presume that the jar of costly perfume was one of these means of preserving one’s wealth.  We can also presume that the jar was worth somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000 in today’s money, at least.

It should also be noted that Jesus had been warning His followers that He was soon to be captured and put to death by His enemies, though it was clear that they didn’t grasp this fully or seemed to block it out of their minds.  We are not certain from this account if the people there, or the woman herself, were aware that Jesus was on His way to His death and burial.

The first thing that jumped out at me about this account was the fact that the other people that witnessed this act were quick to reproach this woman, or discredit her and find fault with what she had done.  They immediately looked at her act from a physical, worldly viewpoint, counting up the value of the perfume, and thinking that it could be put to a better use.  Isn’t this what we do?  We seem to have difficulty suspending our physical, carnal view of situations, to look rather with spiritual eyes, and attempt to consider what God’s perspective might be in the situation.  We don’t seem to want to consider a person’s motivations either.  We don’t want to consider their heart and underlying motive, but rather allow the physical dynamics to take precedence.

Looking at the woman’s perspective, we must realize that we are likely to be misunderstood when we are being obedient to our heart, or when we are following the prompting of the Spirit in our circumstances.  We can’t allow other people’s potential reaction or their opinion to influence our actions towards God, or we will miss out on doing something that God sees as beautiful!

I was curious about the phrase that Jesus used about this woman’s actions when He said, “She has done what she could” and wondered what that really meant.  Of course, we must remember that this was originally written in Greek about 2000 years ago, so the meaning in our present day English may be somewhat different.  As I looked at the original Greek words (and I’m no Greek scholar) I felt that the phrase could be translated more accurately today as “she put to good use her valuable possession.”

Let’s consider what may have been going through this women’s mind at the time.  She had an expensive flask of perfume that most likely represented her life’s savings or possibly an inheritance that was given to her.  She most likely had been prompted by the Holy Spirit to use it on Jesus, so she was being obedient to the Spirit.  She could have possibly remembered that Jesus had said that He was on His way to His death and burial so she wanted to prepare Him for it (I think this is unlikely, although it could be so).  One thing for sure is that she wanted to use this valuable possession of hers to express her love for the Lord Jesus.  She must have believed that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, sent to save mankind.  She must have wanted to honor Him and express physically her recognition of His Lordship.  This was the beautiful thing that Jesus affirmed:

“She has done a beautiful thing to me.”  Mark 14: 6

And amazingly, whether she was aware of it or not, her actions had a higher purpose in that they prepared Jesus for His burial, as He also affirmed:

“She has anointed my body beforehand for burying.” Mark 14: 8

For me personally, I must consider now what I have that I can offer to Him so that He would say, “that was a beautiful thing that you have done to me.”   I don’t believe that it has to be an expensive possession.  It can be anything of value.  It can be anything that we can use to honor Him.  I believe what is key is that we allow the Holy Spirit and our hearts to prompt and motivate us to “do what we can” when the time comes.

At this point I could come up with many examples of what we could possibly offer the Lord, but I don’t believe that it is my place to take this any further.  I think that we must open our minds and hearts to Him and be moved to respond in love towards Him at the proper time.  I think we will know when the time is right and what the offering should be.   This woman’s account is a reminder for us to be open and ready, not impacted by the potential reproach of others, but driven by our love for the Lord to put to good use the valuable possessions (or talents, influence, time, effort, etc.) that we have available to us, in order to honor and glorify Him.

“……….whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10: 31

Amen.

This World is Absurd and Futile

“Vanity of Vanities, all is vanity.  What profit has a man from all his labor in which he labors under the sun?”  Ecclesiastes 1: 2-3

“All things are full of labor; Man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” Ecclesiastes 1: 8

“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.” Ecclesiastes 1: 14

According to the footnote in the New King James translation of the Bible, the word used here for “vanity” can also be translated as “absurdity, futility, frustration, nonsense, and so throughout the book [of Ecclesiastes]”.  The word is used 28 times in the 12 chapters of Ecclesiastes.  In the original Hebrew, the word is “hebel”, and it means “vapor, breath, emptiness”.

The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible is a difficult one to fully grasp.  Obtaining wisdom is not a quick and easy task, but it takes time and meditation to absorb the depth of these truths. I am certain that this book leaves many readers confused and tempted to just pass it off as some meaningless, outdated, musings from the Old Testament.

I submit to you that understanding the wisdom and the view of the world that Solomon puts forth in his scriptural writings is critically important.  The book of Ecclesiastes was included as part of the Holy Scriptures for a reason; it has a purpose; this is the inspired word of God and part of His revelation to mankind.  Remember also that King Solomon was, according to the Bible, the wisest man who ever lived; based on this fact alone we can’t just write off what he is saying.

At first glance, the idea that “all is vanity” or that everything in our world is empty and futile may seem contrary to popular thinking or even foolish to most people.  We must remember, though, that as Christians we need to establish our world view based on the revealed word of God, taking into account the entire overview of the history of creation as shown to us in the Bible.  We also must put aside the previous views of this world that came from our godless past, produced by the evil world system.  Our minds and our thinking must be renewed and transformed. We must now have a spiritual mindset and viewpoint.

In our current western culture, there is a proclivity towards the positive and a rejection of anything negative.  At the root of this, people who are without the hope that has been offered through the promises of God in His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, have difficulty finding a reason to live if they embrace the reality of an empty life that ends in death.  It is a grave danger, though, to embrace a false, fabricated view of reality, only because it feeds a need for a positive hope.  As Christians, we must hold fast to the truth, knowing that it comes from our Creator and Father in heaven.

There is a critical importance to recognizing the vanity, futility, and absurdity of this world, as Solomon observed thousands of years ago.  This viewpoint is a hard one to accept since it goes directly against the grain of the secular human philosophy and evolutionary progression that is so prevalent in our world.

Let us look for a moment at the larger picture of our situation as followers of Jesus Christ.  We are told that we must die with Christ in order to live with Him.  We are told that our old self was crucified with him.  We are told that we must die to this world and to this world system.

“We know that our old self was crucified with Him……but if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” Romans 6: 6, 8

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations.” Colossians 2:20

How can we truly die to this world if deep down in our subconscious mind we are still embracing the false idea that this world is fruitful, satisfying, and offers hope? Unless we fully accept the reality that this world has been cursed by God and subjected to futility, we will not be able to fully die to this world and live with our hearts anchored in heaven.  Recognizing the futility of this physical world system and the vanity of all that it produces is a critical part of being transformed into a spiritual Christian.

Here is the wisdom that is contained in our need for a death to this world:  only by death to the physical can spiritual life come.  It is seemingly paradoxical but we must die to live.  We must be negative to be truly positive!

If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that deep inside we hesitate to embrace the fact that this world is absurd and futile.  It is so hard to embrace the fact that everything we do amounts to nothing in the end and is in vain.  Again I say that we must look at this in the light of God’s revelation of truth, with the eyes of faith.  We have another hope that the world does not see and requires faith to take hold of.

Let’s look closer at a portion of Scripture in the New Testament that deals with this topic.  It’s in Romans Chapter 8, after a discussion about our adoption as sons of God and the inheritance we are assured of and the glory that we will share with Him.  I want to use the Amplified version because it drives home the idea that God has purposely caused this world to be subject to futility:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the gory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us!  For [even the whole] creation (all nature) waits expectantly and longs earnestly for God’s sons to be made known [waits for the revealing, the disclosing of their sonship]. For the creation (nature) was subjected to frailty (to futility, condemned to frustration), not because of some intentional fault on its part, but by the will of Him who so subjected it – [yet] with the hope that nature (creation) itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” Romans 8: 18-21

In the quote above, in the phrase “For the creation was subjected to frailty, the word “frail” is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “easily led into evil“. By the way, in some versions the word frailty is replaced by “vanity” or “futility”. The main point, as explicitly stated in these verses, is that it was the will of God to subject the entire creation to a condition of futility.  This was part of the curse.  We don’t really know what the original condition of the world was before the curse came upon it, but we know it was better than our current situation.

I think it is safe to say that the condition of the future heaven, with the curse removed, will be a place that is NOT futile or vain or absurd or frustrating or nonsensical.  Rather, it will be satisfying and with purpose and beyond what we can imagine, perfect for us in every way.

Continuing with the quote from Romans 8, we see that Paul too exhorts his readers to embrace the reality of this future hope:

“We know that the whole creation [of irrational creatures] has been moaning together in the pains of labor until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves too, who have and enjoy the firstfruits of the [Holy] Spirit [a foretaste of the blissful things to come] groan inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies [from sensuality and the grave, which will reveal] our adoption (our manifestation as God’s sons).  For in [this] hope we were saved. But hope [the object of] which is seen is not hope.  For how can one hope for what he already sees?  But if we hope for what is still unseen by us, we wait for it with patience and composure.” Romans 8: 22 – 25

Solomon’s observation that this world is absurd and futile, and that all of man’s work is in vain, is an accurate assessment of reality.  We must reject the past lies and peel back the imaginary, fantasy view that we have painted for ourselves to override the painful truth of this world’s absurdity and futility. We must also recognize that God has subjected the world to this futility for a purpose, as part of the curse that was the result of Adam’s sin.  We must also recognize that we don’t belong here, but we have a future hope in heaven that is waiting for us.

To be clear, I am not saying that we should stop all that we are doing because it is all for nothing. I am saying that we should behave like aliens and strangers in this world, and as travelers who are just passing through with our hearts set on the treasure that is waiting for us in heaven.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6: 19-20 (the words of Jesus)

There will be no thieves in heaven and our things in heaven will not corrode or decay!

I would suggest that you read the entire book of Ecclesiastes and pray that God opens your eyes to all of the wisdom there.  I will leave you with the conclusion that Solomon ends the book with:

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments. For this is man’s all.  For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14

Amen.

What does it mean to Walk in the Spirit?

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust (strong desires) of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16

The Scriptures have revealed to us that the sin in our lives is rooted in our desires.  We are tempted by our desires and then, as these desires further develop in us, the result is sin.  The book of James says it this way:

“But each man is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin.” James 1: 14 – 15

Knowing, then, that our desires are the root cause of sin, it is important for us to understand how to deal with our strong desires and the lust of the flesh.  According to this verse in Galatians 5 (quoted above), walking in the Spirit is the key to changing or overcoming our fleshly desires and, therefore, it is the key to our victory over sin.  The Scriptures in Galatians 5 continue as follows:

“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” Galatians 5: 17

We must understand that there is a conflict within us between our fleshly desires and the Spirit, and we must make sure that we are following (or walking after) the Spirit and not after the flesh.

And later in the same chapter of Galatians it says this:

“And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” Galatians 5: 24, 25

Christians who are well versed in the Scriptures understand that they must put to death, or put an end to, the strong desires of their flesh that are tied to their old nature, and that are tied to this world and the things that this world has to offer us.  We have shifted our desires and affections to spiritual things rather than physical things, setting our hope on the promise of eternal life in heaven and the unseen reality that accompanies this spiritual, heavenly future place for us.

I have written in more detail on this topic in the past, focusing on the need for us to put to death or crucify our passions and desires, and the shift of our hope from the things of this world to the promise of heaven and eternal life.  Here’s a link to one of the previous posts on this topic: https://flaniganjames.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/walk-in-the-spirit/

In this writing, I would like to focus more on a Christian’s spiritual mindedness. Christians must also make a change in the way that they think in order to correctly walk in the Spirit.  They must shift their dependency on their natural minds and lean more on the guidance and direction of the Spirit.  I can tell you right now that this is utter foolishness to the non-Christian, and unfortunately, is foreign to many Christians.  Christians must learn to look to the Spirit and not to their own natural, logical thoughts as they are guided through this life.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….” Romans 12: 2

In order to better understand this truth, we must remember that we are made up of three parts.  We have a spirit, a soul, and a body.  The body is all that is physical in us: our organs, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.  The soul consists of our mind, our thoughts, and our emotions.  The spirit is the part of us that is connected with the Holy Spirit and is also linked to our conscience.  By the spirit we are able to discern spiritual things.

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.  The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2: 12 – 13

In the light of these three areas of our being, as Christians, it is our goal to have our spirit rule over our soul and body.  For the secular or unspiritual man, their spirit is dead, for we must be born of the spirit in order for our spirit to come alive.  As a result, there are only two possible conditions: their body, or flesh, rules over their soul (mind), or, their soul has partial rule over their body.  Some people have disciplined their bodies to submit to their soul and are able to control their body, keeping their body under submission, but this control from their soul does not work in the long run, and it does not make them spiritual, although some religious people suggest that physical rigor produces spirituality (this is not true).  The Apostle Paul, when speaking of physical religious restrictions, said this to the Colossians:

“These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh.” Colossians 2: 23

Attempting to focus on training our body to obey our mind or will is not a solution; it will not make us spiritual and therefore cannot produce love in us.

As Christians we must not be fooled into thinking that we are spiritual if we have our soul (our natural mind) rule over our body. This does not make us spiritual and is not enough!  We must have our spirit, in tune with the Holy Spirit, to be ruling over our soul, and then our soul to be ruling over our body.

Our unspiritual desires can originate from our soul, not just from our body.  I think this is an error that can lead to problems for Christians. We must recognize that our natural minds can also be the source of unspiritual desires that are contrary to the Spirit and therefore can lead to sin.

To be clear about this, it is not wrong to have desires from either your soul or your body, but we must recognize what they are and not allow them to “conceive and give birth to sin” as the verse in James (quoted above) suggests.  We must be able to recognize when they are in conflict with the spirit, or when they are taking too deep of a hold on our lives, influencing our emotions and actions.

Additionally, we must recognize that walking in the Spirit is not always about suppressing or guarding against desires that lead to sin.  We also need the Spirit’s direction in our lives.  We need to know God’s will and work to accomplish His desires.  We need to go with the spiritual “flow” of things in our lives, and not succumb to the flow that comes from our carnal, natural mind.  It is important that we are able to discern the moving of the Spirit in the day to day circumstances that we encounter so that we are in tune with His guidance and direction.

I would like to refer now to a portion of Scripture in the Gospel of John that I believe illustrates the difference between using our logical, natural mind and following the leading of the Spirit.  By the way, there are many, many places in the Scriptures that illustrate this, but I happened to be reading this recently.  The account is in the 21st chapter of the Gospel of John.  The background is that a group of disciples including Peter and John, a total of about 7 men, were by the sea of Tiberias.  We’ll pick up the story from the Scriptures here:

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We are going with you also.’ They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.  But when morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’  They answered Him, ‘No.’ And He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’  So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ “ John 21: 3-7

Let’s examine what was happening here.  First some background: For those of you not already familiar with this portion of Scripture, you should know that this event occurred after the death and resurrection of Jesus, but it was before they Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples on the day of Pentecost.  You should also know that these men were fishermen by trade and had fished these waters for many years, learning from their parents, who were also fishermen.

Exactly why Peter decided to go out and fish is not clear, but I would think that since it was part of his livelihood, he most likely had assessed the conditions and thought that this was an ideal time to go out to fish.  I would also think that he was against wasting time, both his time and the other six men with him.  Using his experience as a fisherman and possibly some other logical and sensible reasoning, he decided to go out to fish for the night, and his fellow disciples, trusting his leadership in this, decided to join him.

On the following morning, after being out fishing all night, which I assume meant that they spent the entire night casting their nets and hauling them in only to find them empty, they were returning to the shore and were confronted by a man who told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat and they would catch fish.  They didn’t know that it was Jesus.  For some reason, they listened to the man and it turned out to be exactly as he said, they caught many, many fish, so many that they could not haul them into the boat.

Immediately, we see what seems to be a very reasonable and logical endeavor, initiated by Peter, who was an expert fisherman, ending in complete failure.  And then, what seems to be unreasonable and illogical, to listen to the directions of some stranger on the shore, resulting in a bountiful success.

I wonder what the disciples thought when the stranger called to them.  Why didn’t they question him since they didn’t know that it was Jesus?  I think they must have had some spiritual discernment to know that there was something happening spiritually, even though they didn’t immediately recognize that it was Jesus.

The lesson here is simple.  We must recognize, no matter how much we think we know, or how much of an expert we think we are, or how reasonable or logical we think our plans are, that our natural minds are far inferior to the knowledge and direction of the Spirit of God.  We must therefore be more inclined to look to the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction, then to look to the logic and reasoning of our natural minds.

I am not saying that it was evil or necessarily wrong for Peter and the other disciples to go out to fish that night.  We must recognize that if they would have stayed on shore for the night and saw Jesus the next day, that it is possible that Jesus could have directed them to go out and drop their nets and catch many fish.  It would have saved them a night of toil that got them no fish.

I also find it interesting that the disciples didn’t ask Jesus for help.  His actions were not a response to their requests.  It seemed that Jesus knew they hadn’t caught any fish and came to their help without them asking. God knows what we need before we even ask for it; He knows our situation and what is best for us.

Here’s what’s hard: we are not always able to hear clearly from the Holy Spirit to get direction from Him, and are therefore tempted to move out on our own without waiting for His guidance.  I have found in my own life that waiting is always better and when we are following the direction of God’s Spirit, we can be assured that His plan will work best.  We need to hone our skills of discernment so that we can recognize the leading of the Spirit or recognize when it is our own natural minds.  We need to understand that many times what is logical and reasonable is most likely from our own minds and many times God’s direction will appear to be unreasonable and illogical.  I believe that this is because He will get the glory from the results when we know that the direction came from Him and not our logical and reasonable thinking.  This is difficult for many Christians because following the direction of the Spirit can make us look stupid, or unwise according to worldly wisdom, or put us in a position that is against all sound reason and therefore in conflict with our friends and family.

Walking in the Spirit means that we are aware and aligned with the moving of the Spirit, depending more on His direction and guidance than on our own natural mind and the associated logic and reasoning.  Functioning in our own natural mind will bear little or no fruit whereas functioning under the direction of the Holy Spirit will always be productive.  I have learned the hard way that every time I move out on my own energy and planning it ends up being a waste of time and effort.

There are times though that following our natural mind and thoughts can get us into spiritual trouble.  We can miss God’s plan and purpose in certain circumstances and this can be wrong and evil.  The best example in the Scriptures is that of Peter rebuking the Lord for saying that He was going to suffer and die at the hands of the religious Jews.  Here’s the account of this situation in Matthew:

“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised on the third day.  Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord; this shall not happen to you!’  But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God but the things of men.’ “ Matthew 16: 21 – 23

In this situation, Jesus called Peter “Satan” because he was “mindful of the things of men and not mindful of the things of God.”  In other words, he was being led by his natural mind and not following his spiritual mind.

Our natural minds are limited to the information from this physical world or what Jesus called “the things of men” in the above quote.  To Peter, who was looking only at the physical situation without a regard for the spiritual (things of God), it was perfectly logical and rational to conclude that it was a bad idea for Jesus to go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed.

It should also be noted that Peter may have thought that he was aligned with the things of God since he had incorrectly interpreted the Lord’s purpose, thinking that He was going to establish His physical kingdom at this time.  We too must be careful that we are not basing our thinking incorrect information that would possibly mislead us into thinking that we are being spiritual but in fact are carnal.  Being open to the guidance of our conscience and the help of the Spirit should correct this situation.  In other words, when we are walking in the spirit, attempting to follow the flow of the Spirit and align with the things of God, we must be open to the communication of the Spirit and the guidance of our conscience.

In summary, walking in the Spirit is not just putting to death those things that are associated with our physical body, but it requires that we also put aside our logical natural thinking and instead be guided by the Holy Spirit.   We do this by prayerfully listening to His voice, that still, small voice that we have come to recognize as the Lord’s voice.  We also must allow our conscience to guide us as it is connected to the Spirit’s guidance.  Although listening and following the Spirit’s leading can cause us to look foolish to others, it will be the best and most productive path for us to follow.  Learning to walk in the Spirit in this manner takes time and practice and we will possibly fail or miss it, but God is faithful to help us and correct us in all of our efforts when we do so sincerely seeking to please Him.

May the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ bless you with the ability to hear His voice clearly and with the strength to follow Him wholly and completely until the end.  Amen.

Don’t Neglect the Weightier Things

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” Matthew 23: 23

The Pharisees were a religious group that was dedicated to strictly following the Jewish laws.  The scribes were Pharisees who were considered to be experts in the law.  During the ministry of Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees represented the worst of the religious people who had digressed into error and hypocrisy.  These, along with the Jewish leadership, were also responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.  They are examples for us today of people who may desire to be close to God and even to be His representative, but have in reality become His enemy.

The lesson for us today is to learn from the errors of the scribes and Pharisees, recognizing that we have the same tendencies as they did, and we can be just as blind to our own faults as they were.  We should guard against subtle temptations of drifting down the same pathways that led them to their final states of error and hypocrisy.

One error that Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for (as quoted above) is their neglect of what Jesus called the “weightier matters of the Law”.  He spelled out these weightier matters as justice, mercy and faith.  In order to make sure that we don’t also neglect these, we must understand what they are and how they need to be attended to.  Let’s briefly take a closer look at each of these.  I would suggest that you take more time on your own to seek God and study the Scriptures to learn even more about these and how they apply to your life and relationship with God.

Justice

Some Bible versions use the word “judgment” or “righteousness” rather than “justice” in this verse.  The original Greek word used is “krisis” and it is defined in Strong’s concordance as “decision (subjectively or objectively, for or against); by extension, a tribunal; by implication, justice (especially divine law): – accusation, condemnation, damnation, judgment.”  The definition of the English word “justice” is “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.”

The indication from these definitions is that it is important for us to correctly determine what is fair, just, good, and right in our lives and circumstances and then to adhere to these judgments by aligning our own actions either to enforce or to support the enforcement of these just decisions.  In order for us to correctly make these determinations of justice, we need to have an understanding of God’s values and principles as revealed in His Scriptures.  Additionally, our consciences need to be healthy and sensitive, in tune with the Holy Spirit, and we need to be true to our conscience.

What does this mean to us in a practical sense?  It is very important to God that we are just and fair in all of our dealings.  For example, how we discipline our children or those whom we have authority over, or how we do business, i.e. the wages we give our employees or the prices we charge for our services or goods, or how we treat others in our situations at work or school or even at play.  We must be fair and equitable in all of these affairs and in whatever other situations we find ourselves in.

Some decisions are hard and therefore we need to look to the Holy Spirit for guidance, prayerfully taking time to inquire of God before hastily deciding on something especially when it impacts people’s lives.  In general, we need to be aware of the importance of justice in all our activities.  This awareness should help us to find the guidance we need to get to the proper actions or decisions.

Also, we should support those who are making a stand for what is right and just, or those who are administering righteous justice in the face of ridicule or resistance.  It seems especially true today when God’s values are being rejected by our society.  Our society has been turning good into evil and evil into good.  We need to contribute to stopping the injustices associated with these changes.

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5: 20

Mercy

I am confident that most Christians understand the definition of the word mercy, but it may not be clear that showing mercy towards others is a weightier matter of the law and that it is important to God.  Being merciful as noted in this verse implies that we are not just merciful to those close to us, our family and friends, but that we are merciful to all those who are afflicted, and even to our enemies.

To best illustrate the importance of mercy and its practical application, below is an exchange between Jesus and a scribe as recorded in the Gospel of Luke:

“And behold, a certain lawyer (scribe) stood up to test Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’  He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’  And He said, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’  But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’  Then Jesus answered and said: ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by Chance a certain priest came down the road, and when he saw him, passed by on the other side.  Likewise, a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked and passed by on the other side.  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was and when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, “take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.”  So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” Luke10: 25-37

It should also be noted that at the time there was a longstanding hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans due to religious differences, so the Samaritan who helped the injured Jew was especially merciful under the circumstances.

We need to keep our hearts tender towards those in need and those who are afflicted and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to assist and relieve those whom we encounter.

Faith

The Greek word used here for faith is “pistis” meaning persuasion from a root word “peitho” that means to persuade, and refers to our moral conviction.  Abstractly, it implies the constancy in such profession or conviction.  In other words it means that we have been persuaded of some truth and that we are living our lives in alignment with this truth.

The scribes and Pharisees did have a belief in God and they had dedicated their lives to strictly following the Jewish laws.  What was their problem then with regards to their faith?

The Bible clearly teaches that our faith must produce works or it is dead faith:

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But some will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that there is one God.  You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble. But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” James 2: 14-24

The good works that we produce in our lives are an indication that our faith is genuine and “alive” rather than dead.  We need to make sure that we are producing these good works, and if not, look to the Lord for help to deepen or strengthen our faith.

The Scriptures also make it clear that our faith should be focused on the spiritual, unseen, truths and not on the physical, visible, things of this world.  Our faith should be combined with the future hope that we have of a spiritual reality in heaven in the kingdom of God.  If we set our affections and focus on the spiritual hope that we have in Christ, and ignore (or die to) the hopes that are offered by this world, our faith will be deepened and we will produce the needed good works.  We will also become spiritually minded rather than carnally or fleshly minded, and this will foster in us a spiritual growth that will transform us into spiritual beings having the mind of Christ and the nature of God.

“For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” Galatians 5: 5

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” Galatians 5: 16-17

In contrast the scribes and Pharisee were focused on this world and the praises of men.  It was obvious that the spiritual truths that they knew were not a reality to them; they didn’t really believe that they had eternal life in heaven after a temporary life on earth, nor did they really believe that God was going to judge them according to what they had done and according to His standards of mercy and justice.

The Bible says that the Jews of that time “had a zeal for God, but it was not enlightened” meaning that they did not understand the way of faith; they were focused on achieving rather than really believing.

“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles (non-Jews) who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works.” Romans 9: 30-32″

“I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that every on who has faith may be justified.” Romans 10: 2-4

Let’s not fall into the same error as the scribes and Pharisees.  Let’s keep our focus and attention set on our hope in heaven and on spiritual things, not on this world.  Let’s let our minds be renewed and transformed into the mind of Christ.  Let’s stand up for justice and be just in our dealings and decisions.  And let’s walk in love, being merciful to others, even to strangers or our enemies.  Lord please help us to do so!

Amen.

Don’t Deceive Yourself

“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” 1 Corinthians 3:18

To deceive someone is to purposely mislead them with false information, convincing or persuading them that a false thing is true.  The idea of someone deceiving themselves is then an oxymoron, or a seemingly contradictory combination of terms.  How does one convince oneself that something they know to be false is true? What motivates them to do so?

I would speculate that there are varying degrees of self deception with some people purposely and knowingly blocking out the truth, and others who do so subconsciously.  The real issue is the deception, or allowing yourself to be deceived, whether self inflicted or done by others, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  Christians, especially, should have a strong resistance against deception as we mature in Christ, as Paul exhorted the Ephesians:

“…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,..” Ephesians 4: 13-14

It is important to realize how serious it is to allow yourself to be deceived by others or to deceive yourself.  Remember that Adam and Eve’s sin and fall from paradise was due to their being deceived by the serpent (i.e. Satan).  It is still Satan’s desire to deceive us and have us believe his lies.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells us about Satan steeling the truth of the Word out of some people hearts:

“The sower sows the word, and these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.” Mark 4: 13-14

We need to be aware of Satan’s tactics and understand that he will be attempting to deceive us or to lend support for us to deceive ourselves.  And it’s not just the world that Satan has blinded to the truth, Christians too are vulnerable to Satan’s ploys and can be deceived.  Christians are constantly confronted with false teaching, false doctrine, miss-information, old myths, and worldly philosophies, and therefore we must be constantly on guard.

“But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3: 13-17 (Paul writing to Timothy)

The same advice is applicable for us today, to be well versed in the Holy Scriptures, so that we can weigh the things we hear against the truth from God’s word to either verify or reject it.

So what motivates us to want to deceive ourselves?  Why do we not want to face the truth?  We know that facing the truth can be painful, but why?  Let’s look deeper into this.

False, deceptive teachings can appeal to our flesh, supporting our desires for material or worldly things or possibly feeding our pride, or giving us an excuse to continue in sin.  It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us or to show us clearly the sin in our lives, but we have a tendency to resist from turning the spotlight on ourselves, whereas we are quick to turn the spotlight on others.  It’s interesting that we can hear a message or warning for correction and immediately think about other people who should be hearing it so they can straighten out their bad behavior when we are the ones who need it most, who the Holy Spirit is trying to get though to, yet we don’t allow the message to penetrate into our minds and hearts.  Lord help us to be open to examining our own selves as quickly as we look at others.

I have observed that any truth that invokes a negative emotion will cause us to want to block it out or reject it, even if deep down we know that it is true; somehow we just don’t allow ourselves to accept it because we think it will be too painful.  Some of us have been so sheltered that even the slightest discomfort will cause us to want to block out the truth.  Sadly, there are some who have been emotionally abused by parents or spouses and therefore cannot endure any further negative emotions and therefore block out anything that invokes these emotions, including the hearing of the truth.  As Christians we need healing from any emotional instability and we need to be mature, able to face the hard truths that life brings to us.

Guilt is one negative emotion that causes pain for us, but God in His wisdom and mercy has also given us a means to deal with our guilt.  He has offered forgiveness through the blood of Jesus that washes away our sins.  All of our sins that occurred before we came to Jesus are cleared from our record and fully forgiven.  Any current sins can be brought to Jesus, confessed to Him and removed also.  And He has made a way for us to live our lives with freedom from sin.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1: 10

It is amazing that God has removed the negativity of guilt from our minds and hearts, and from our conscience, so that we can be completely open to receive the truth and to enter into an intimate relationship with Him.  Praise God!

Fear is another negative emotion that could cause the truth to be blocked from our mind or cause us to not want to believe it, but rather believe a lie.  The prime example of this is the fear that we all have of death.  When we face the reality of death and its finality, we are then forced to come to grips with the futility of life that ends in death, leaving us with nothing and faced with the unknown afterlife.  We must somehow convince ourselves of a reason to exist in this world for such a short time (I am speaking of those who don’t believe in the resurrection), only to end in death.  For many, they block this reality out of their minds, or accept a false philosophy to allow them to function through life without the fear of death.  Only the Christian can stand firm on the established truth of the promised eternal life through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Related to fear, we also have a resistance to change in our lives, so that any truth that we encounter that suggests a need for us to change is resisted fearing that the changes will be too difficult or too painful.  As Christians though, we really need to embrace change and prepare our hearts to be open to change.  God is doing a work in us and it will require changes in us.  We are constantly being uprooted from the world’s ways into God’s ways.  The old things have to be done away with and the new things established.  And, yes, sometimes the changes are painful and difficult.  These are both external and internal changes; if we resist them we will most likely end up deceiving ourselves in some way.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2

And finally, we must recognize that it is our pride that is the most likely thing to hinder us from receiving the truth, and contributes to our self deception.  We don’t like to be told that we are wrong or to be corrected, and therefore we resist.  As Christians though, we should love to be corrected, realizing that it is for our own good and advancement in spiritual maturity, and that it is really the Holy Spirit that is correcting us, not the people who are being used to convey the message of correction.  In fact, I have found that the Lord will sometimes use someone who we don’t respect to be the messenger for correction to test us.  We must therefore look beyond the imperfections of the messenger and weigh the message based on the truth it holds.

“He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself.  Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy one is understanding.” Proverbs 9: 7-10

In the opening quote above from 1 Corinthians 3, Paul is warning against the self deception that comes from holding to the wisdom of this world, that I believe is rooted in and motivated by our pride.   As Christians we must humble ourselves and become like fools in the worlds eyes so that we can embrace the truth and the true wisdom that comes from God.  We must remove our predetermined biases and associations that we are proud of and be completely open to receiving truth based on God’s wisdom, with His influence and guidance.

“Let no one deceive himself.  If anyone among you seems to be wise I this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  For it is written, ‘ He catches the wise in their own craftiness’, and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ Therefore let no one boast in men.” 1 Cor. 3: 18-21

“Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ ” Matthew 18: 2-4

At the time of this writing there is a very large separation between the two dominant political parties in the United States.  It is therefore very obvious how the predetermined biases and prideful association with either party influences the determination of truth.  If one political candidate does something, all the supporting people praise it and all the opposing party people condemn it; when the candidate from the other party does the same thing, the support and opposition aligns exactly along party lines.  Sadly, there is no real search for truth but rather a desire for the associated party to be right or win the argument; again, this is rooted in pride.

Let me close by saying that each one of us is responsible as individuals for our determination of truth.  We must open our minds to hear from the Holy Spirit, putting aside any fear of change or painful emotion, and especially putting aside our pride and biases.  We must reject the wisdom that comes from this world and know that true wisdom comes from God as revealed through His Scriptures.  We must guard ourselves against the enemy who will attempt to deceive us by any means possible, taking advantage of our weaknesses.  We must put to death our fleshly desires and not allow them to influence our determination of truth, or to keep us believing lies.  We must also recognize that the process of transformation is ongoing for us as children of God so that there is always truth to be learned so we must constantly be open and willing to learn or to be corrected.

My prayer for you is the same as Paul’s for the Ephesians:

“That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3: 16-19

If you have this, you will not be deceived, nor will you be deceiving yourself.

Be Patient Until the Lord Comes

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and late rain.  You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors.  As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.  You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5: 7-11

We live in a very impatient society.  We learn from an early age that time is money so if we are not rushing than we are wasting time and losing money.  And yet it seems that we spend so much of our time waiting.  We wait for the light to turn green, for the progress bar to finish, for the water to boil, for vacation time to come, for retirement, and for many other events, big and small, to either arrive or to complete.

As we allow more and more pressure to be put on us to perform faster and faster, it generates more and more stress in us.   The stress causes us to become less and less patient, possibly resulting in outbursts or anger and impatience.  When riding with one of my friends, he would start yelling, “You can go! You can go! You can go!” when the light turned green and the car in front wouldn’t move immediately.  If you have been to a big city like New York, you learn quickly that people are very impatient and seem to function in that mode, and are even proud of it.  They are quick to beep their horn or shout out obscenities, and consider it part of the city culture.  All of us are faced with the pressure to move quickly and get things done, and to produce as quickly as possible.  We also expect the same of others and become impatient if they don’t.  This attitude of impatience infiltrates all areas of our lives as it is a part of our western culture (at least here in the USA).

On the flip side, I find it amazing that the things that we look forward to with so much anticipation are usually anticlimactic, that is, they usually don’t deliver what we expect.  It’s like we are motivated by the expectation, but then disappointed when we reach the desired goal, so we quickly shift our attention to the next anticipated future event to again motivate us.  Ultimately, this approach leads to frustration and even despair, and this could also contribute to an increase in our impatience.

There are two problems that I’m pointing out here: first is our tendency towards being impatient as we are trained to do so in this society by being pressured to move and work at a fast pace, as well as the desire for immediate results, and second is our misplaced anticipations, when we place them on the things of this world and allow our expectations to be set very high as a means of motivation or whatever the case.

As Christians we must deal with both of these problems.  In fact, I would say that there is a high importance on getting this right in our lives.  The Lord has placed a very high value on patience.  Have you considered why?  Consider this verse:

“Love is patient…..”  1 Corinthians 13: 4

And this:

“For the fruit of the Spirit is……patience…..” Galatians 5:22

When we think about being patient we don’t always equate this to love.  Nor do we always recognize patience as a fruit of the spirit or as being spiritual.  But patience is a part of the very nature of God.  Jesus displayed patience, and patience in suffering, as He lived His life here on the earth and suffered for us as He was beaten and crucified as an innocent man.

There are many scripture verses that emphasize the importance of patience or patient endurance towards the hope that we have in the return of Jesus, but I chose to look closer at the above quoted verses in James.  James begins this letter with an exhortation to be patient:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (endurance or perseverance). But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (or mature) and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1: 2-4

In these initial verses from James also lies a key to our ability to be patient, that is, that we must change our attitude towards the difficult circumstances that we face, recognizing that they have been allowed by God for the testing of our faith.  When our faith is tested and we endure, it produces in us an increase in our godly character, and more specifically, it produces patience in us.

Allow me to spell this out:  When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances that require us to wait and endure patiently, there is nothing wrong, but this is exactly what God wants for us.  We need to submit to it, rather than attempting to circumvent or side step around the circumstances, and recognize that this is the testing of our faith and that God has ordained the trial for us to endure.  In His time, He will open a door for us to move on or to be removed from our situation.  It will be clear to us that it is time to move on, otherwise, If we don’t submit to the Lord’s will by continuing in the circumstances, these circumstances (or something similar or perhaps even more difficult) will only come back upon later.

I like what it says in verse 8 of James 5:

“You also be patient.  Establish you hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”  James 5:8

In the Amplified Bible, after “Establish your hearts”, it adds in brackets, “Strengthen and confirm them (i.e. your hearts) in final certainty.”  Here lies the second key related to the second problem that we have mentioned.  Rather than placing our hope and expectations upon something in this world that will only disappoint us, we need to establish our hearts upon the hope that we have in heaven and make up our minds to be steadfast in our focused anticipation of the glory that we will share with Jesus Christ at the end.  There is tremendous power in this hope, as the scriptures attest to:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8: 18

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 17-18

As Christians, we therefore have the perfect solution to the problems of impatience and stress.  I don’t say this lightly because this solution was brought to us by the Lord Jesus Christ and was paid for by His life and death, to establish our hope of glory that is incorruptible and assured beyond all doubt.  As we patiently endure through this life, we have the example of the endurance of the past prophets and saints, and the endurance of the Lord Jesus.  Armed with this knowledge we know that whatever the situation that we face, we can get through it by the grace of God as they have done in the past.  We also are confident that God is on our side and is even using our trials to work into us a more Christ-like nature of love that will only make us stronger and give us more reward in the end.

As Christians we should be known for our patience and our ability to endure hardships.  Let us establish our hearts in strength and set our faces like flint towards the future hope that we have in Christ not allowing any circumstances to undermine our character or cause us to become impatient.  We now know the source of our strength: a changed attitude towards the trials that we face and a steadfast hope set on the promise of future glory in heaven.  My prayer is that everyone who reads this will find this source of strength, and even more so, so that they will persevere until the end, when Jesus returns.  Amen.